Student Athletic Programs Taking Greater Efforts to Prevent Concussions

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According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 3.8 million athletes suffer a concussion annually in the United States with about 135,000 of those being among children between the ages of 5 and 18. Football, being a high-contact sport, sends about 45,000 athletes to emergency rooms each year for head injuries. Athletic programs across the country are now realizing that concussions are significantly more of an issue than originally thought and are taking greater precautions for their students.

A concussion is a brain injury caused by a hard hit, and not necessarily a direct blow to the head, says Marshall Crowther MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It can be a blow to the body that sends a strong enough force up to the head,” he explains.

Read: Focus on Football Injuries as School Starts

Although about 90% of concussions clear up on their own, says physicians and athletic trainers at UAB Sports Medicine, it is essential that the athletes get proper care because if you have one concussion you are more likely to suffer from subsequent concussions. And doctors still aren’t sure about the long-term ramifications of concussions and why some people tend to have more prolonged problems or symptoms.

For example, a study published in the journal Neurosurgery finds that both professional and student athletes who suffer repeated blows to the head are at risk for developing a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. This condition surfaces years later in the form of memory loss, mood disorders and possible early dementia.

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Many states are now adopting concussion laws. Alabama passed a law in June 2011, but the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) had initiated rules earlier for student athletes stating that if a player exhibited concussions symptoms, they must be removed from the game immediately and held out until a physician clears them for return – usually a minimum of one week.

Read: Concussions in Athletes Detected Using One Minute Sideline Test

Another state to recently pass a concussion law is North Carolina. The Gfeller-Waller Concussion Act was signed into law in July 2011. The law is named after two young high school players who died after football related head injuries in 2009. As with the Alabama law, a student athlete suspected of having a concussion must be removed from participation until cleared by a medical doctor, not the coach or an athletic trainer.

Kevin Guskiewicz, a professor at UNC and director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, calls the law the best in the country because of its strong educational component. Public high schools and middle school coaches, trainers, athletes and parents will receive information about concussions each year and schools will be required to formulate emergency action plans.

To prevent football injuries, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) urges parents, coaches, and players to consider the following tips:

• All involved with student athletics should understand the symptoms of concussion, including headaches, blurred vision, nausea or vomiting, cognitive impairment, abnormal or erratic behavior, drowsiness or slurred speech.
• All players should undergo a preseason physical examination, including identification of brain or spinal injuries. All players should also receive preconditioning and strengthening of head and neck muscles.
• Player equipment should fit properly, especially the helmet. Virginia Tech has recently released a rating system for adult football helmets that is designed to reduce the risk of concussions. The evaluation of 120 different brands identified six helmets with a 4-star or better rating.

References:
University of Alabama Birmingham (2011, August 5) "This Football Season More Emphasis Will be on Preventing Concussions"
Raleigh News and Observer (2011, June 17) "Concussion Bill Signed into Law"
Virginia Tech (2011, May 11) "Football helmet ratings for reducing concussion risk"

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